Saturday, October 14, 2017

Skype meetings

I’d already had one meeting with two television producers, to discuss a two page outline I’d written for a series based in Cornwall, about people who work with the sea, specifically the coastal bits of it, although I’ve probably said too much already.

That first meeting had gone very well. We’d discussed tone, plot, the central character’s emotional arc (I’d remembered to suggest he had one, I don’t always), and we’d all gone away content we were going to start making something amazing.

However, just to make sure, a Skype meeting had been arranged, for a couple of weeks later. I’d put aside forty minutes, maybe even an hour. This was going to be done properly. And after five or so minutes of chit-chat, we got right down to it.

PRODUCER 1: ….so, what we need to discuss is how we see this show developing. Where it goes. Where the characters go, and where we, the audience, go.

PRODUCER 2:  As well where we, the makers of the show, go.

PRODUCER 1: Well obviously. Also the feel. What kind of feel does it have?

ME: Cool! Well, I see this as having a Seventies thriller kind of vibe. A bit Desmond Bagley, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsythe maybe? So-



ME: (desperately tacking in the opposite direction) Although obviously more contemporary than that. Technology’s going to play a big part in it, so-

PRODUCER 1: Sure, sure.




ME: That’s not how you saw it at all, is it?


PRODUCER 2: Not really.

ME: Shall we leave it then?

PRODUCER 1: Let’s do that.

ME: Right okay cheers then.

I press Control and Q on my keyboard, which turns off the Skype app. And tells me the call has lasted exactly seven minutes.


A gentle ‘ding’ from the laptop as the Skype actually turns off.

ME: (weakly) - sake….

Friday, November 18, 2016

Je Suis Ron

I had to write this whole experience down as it was so bizarre I thought if I didn’t, it might evaporate like it had never happened, which would be a shame.

Like many people who work from home, I am plagued, PLAGUED I tell you by scam callers. Usually the ones who claim to be called Bernard or Kevin or Helen even though they have quite a thick Indian-ish accent - it's NOT RACIST to think there might be a contradiction there although I'd be perfectly happy to be set straight on that matter - and tell me there’s a problem with my Windows computer, which seems quite likely, or would be if I didn’t have a Mac, which for Apple’s many faults (being actively evil on a global scale, continually trying to remove the star ratings on iTunes etc), doesn’t actually go wrong very often.

Either way, Bernard or Kevin or Helen seem awfully keen on my following instructions which a cynical person might suspect will lead to money being moved from my bank account to anothers' in a post-ethical manner that would make it hard to retrieve. The thing is though, I can’t bring myself to be rude to these people, because that’s probably the best job they could get, and also I’m weak-willed and scared of confrontation.

So normally I say ‘ooh I’ll go and get my laptop’ and spend ten minutes bumbling about, periodically returning to the phone and saying things like ‘maybe it was in the East Wing, I’m sure I was there this morning’ then wandering off again until eventually they give up. This way I haven’t been rude to anyone, but that’s ten minutes they couldn’t trick my elderly nan into email them her savings, which would be difficult to be fair, because she’s dead.

Anyway, I haven’t had a scam call for ages, and I almost miss those crazy guys, then this morning, Ron called.

RON: (thick Bangladesh accent, but in your head so you're the racist one NOT ME) Hello, my name is Ron there is a problem with your Windows computer.

I immediately minimise the document I’m working on because it’s not like I need an excuse to not write.

ME: Right, gosh, what shall I do?
RON: Is your computer in front of you?
ME: No.

Long pause.

RON: (helpfully) Could you perhaps go and get it?
ME: Yes!

Followed by a good long while of me bumbling about and doing the ‘ooh I'll find it in a minute damn that butler etc’ stuff. When I return, Ron is still on the line. He has not given up!

ME: Okay, I have found my laptop.
RON: This is great, sir.
ME: It is, isn’t it?
RON: What is on your laptop at the moment?
ME: A word document.
RON: You must close it.
ME: Right-oh.

I do close it, because I am METHOD, and it’s only work.

RON: Have you closed it?
ME: Yes, but it’s happening verrrrrry slowwwwwwwly.

A very long silence.

RON: Is it closed yet?
ME: Neaaaaarrrrrrllllllyyy.
RON: I know what you’re doing.
ME: (guilt) What?
RON: I know what you’re doing. I know what you’re doing. I know what you’re doing.


RON: I know what you’re doing.
ME: You’re freaking me out a bit Ron.
RON: I know what you’re doing.
ME: At this point, I really don’t know what I’m doing.
RON: I know what you’re doing.

I decide to play Ron at his own unnerving game.

ME: (Unintelligible whispering)
Ron decides to join in.
RON: (Unintelligible whispering)

We are now whispering unintelligibly at each other. It’s weirdly intimate, and I give in first, by giggling. Then Ron starts giggling.

RON: You fucker.
ME: (shocked) Ron!

More giggling from Ron.

ME: I'll be honest, I am stringing you along a bit because that stops you getting money from other, more vulnerable people, nice grans etc.
RON: (cheerful) Okay.

Bit of a pause.

ME: So where are you calling from?
RON: Bangladesh.
ME: Is it a big office?
RON: Yes.
ME: Are there many people in your office?
RON: Yes. Do you speak any other languages?
ME: (immediately) I speak fluent French. (I don’t).
RON: What is French for ‘my name is’?
ME: That would be ‘je suis’ – NO WAIT! That’s ‘I am’. My name is ‘Je m’appelle’ something.
RON: Say, my name is (Bangladesh word).
ME: Ron. Are you trying to make me say ‘My name is fucker’ in your native tongue?

Ron giggles.

ME: I should say Ron, I don’t approve of your business practices, but I am at least enjoying this conversation.
RON: Goodbye.

There is a long silence. Ron doesn’t seem to want to put the phone down.

ME: We both know this has to end, Ron.
ME: Goodbye Ron.

Ron giggles. I put down the phone.

Goodbye Ron.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015


The long summer is over (it's been over for a while, but Autumn only kicked in a couple of days ago, like someone shifted a load of recycling and found the big red button marked 'Chilly/Damp' and said oh there it is and pressed it).

I hardly managed any meetings over the summer, mainly because I was looking after two small children, and also most telly people are either on holiday, looking after their small children or drunk at the Edinburgh Television Festival. Okay, fine, some of them are actually making television programmes, or say they are, it's hard to check, because there are so many channels now. Sometimes they're drunk, looking after small children and making television programmes, which explains a lot.

I did sneak in a couple of meetings towards the end of the summer though. My favourite went like this:


I enter the room. Two producers and a script editor are looking warily at a wodge of stapled paper on a coffee table before them. It has my name on. It is a spec (speculative) sitcom script I wrote!

PRODUCER ONE: At first I thought I didn't like this script very much.
ME: Okay...
PRODUCER ONE: But then I realised I just didn't understand it.
ME: Oh.

Quite a long pause.

PRODUCER TWO: I did understand it!
ME: Huzzah!
PRODUCER TWO: But I definitely didn't like it.
SCRIPT EDITOR: I read it, and I did like it!
ME: Great.
SCRIPT EDITOR: But then I realised I hadn't read it properly, and when I went back and read it again, I realised I hadn't understood it at all, and now I don't like it.
ME: Right.

I reach over and pick the script up, even thought it technically belongs to them, because they printed it out and everything. Slowly I slide it into my bag. No-one tries to stop me.

An awkward silence follows. Finally:

ME: Okay, was this it, because this is turning out to be quite a depressing-
PRODUCER ONE: Oh, wait, we liked the other thing you sent us!
PRODUCER TWO: Yes! That was much more our sort of thing.
ME: Huzzah again!

SCRIPT EDITOR pulls a hitherto-hidden cord and lots of balloons fall from a net in the ceiling. We all jump around for ages to the sound of Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off'. Eventually we all sit down, panting, and a runner takes all the balloons away.

PRODUCER ONE: Okay, I have two things I would like to say about this idea. In which order would you like them?
ME: Do the second one first.
PRODUCER ONE: Very well.

That last bit really was word for word. And a lot of the first bit. Some of the stuff in the middle was made up to some extent.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I dunno, he's just one bloke, I reckon we could take him.

(yes, I've already put this on Twitter, I just want it on record I spotted it before Private Eye)

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Beard Meetings

A few years ago now, some big city, either Manchester or that other one, paid about seven million quid for a facial recognition system that would plug into the city centre CCTV and allow the authorities to quickly spot and track down malcontents, miscreants and general riffraffery. The system was turned on with great fanfare, only for it to rapidly become clear that... it didn't work. At all. Further investigation revealed that not only did it not work, it had never worked in the first place.

Which is the first time I've ever felt sorry for a bit of software, because my own facial recognition system is at best somewhat glitchy (it has been pointed out in the comments below that the technical term for this is prosopagnosia) . Mind you, that CCTV system didn't even recognise black people as being human beings as opposed to, say, strangely mobile bits of building or shrubbery, and I'm not quite that bad. No-one's ever paid seven million quid for me to turn up for a thing that I can not only not do, but also be a massive racist into the bargain (I'm sure someone will let me know if I misremember).

My not-goodness at faces would lead to conversations like this one, in my early twenties:

FRIEND:  Why do you keep blanking me in town?
ME: I've never blanked you!
FRIEND: You regularly walk past me, and you only spot me if I put my face in front of yours and say HELLOOOOOO!
ME:   Yes! That's how people recognise each other from a distance of more than eight inches, surely?
ME: Yes, well, you say that.
FRIEND: We've also shared a house for the last four years.

I realised a while ago this also partly explains my long struggle to deal with abstract concepts like plot and narrative structure, because if you're not great at face, the film-watching experience goes like this:

ME: okay, the dark-haired guy in this who stabbed someone earlier is now arresting... himself! Wait, they're two different people! He's cloned himself! This film is BRILLIANT! Oh wait, they're two different people. And now the blond woman has gone back in time to fight her earlier self - oh that's her sister.
FRIEND: I'm not watching films with you any more.

Anyway, after that, I put a lot more processing power into actors' faces, and now I'm all 'ooh he was Phoebe's boyfriend in series one of Friends, that guy was in Grosse Point Blank for about thirty seconds' and so on, which is just as annoying but in the other direction.

I also got better at actual real life peoples' faces once I tried out the whole 'eye contact' thing, but the system still crashes from time to time, thusly:

A couple of years ago:


I am waiting to meet a lovely producer I worked with on a fun project about six months previous. An unfamiliar lady, a PA I assume, wanders out and starts talking to me about a new project, which is nice, but we should probably wait until the producer is here. After about half an hour I start to wonder if the producer is ever going to turn up, and then the penny drops.

ME: Wait, it's you! You had a haircut!
ME: (quickly) Nothing.

AND NOW WE ARE UP TO SPEED. Well, yesterday. I am in an animation workshop, involving four other writers and a lady producer (I haven't seen a man producer in about five years, I think they've all died out). Having drunk an enormous amount of coffee, I suddenly realise I quite need what the americans refer to as a 'bathroom break', so I dash out, and then I dash back again, because I don't want to miss anything. Bearing in mind I also have quite poor spacial awareness (if you are thinking to yourself that this writer is possibly a couple of steps into the 'bit special' spectum, I would say this: BINGO), I run back in roughly the same direction, see a group of people through a glass door, crash through and sit down.

There follows a moment of silence, at which point it occurs to me I am quite possibly IN THE WRONG ROOM ENTIRELY and about to utterly derail series six of Game of Thrones or something.

Quickly I cast my mind back to a few seconds ago and try to recall the exact faces I saw through the glass door. All I can come up with is that they were definitely faces.

It's still silent. Suddenly I remember: it was a comedy/animation writers' workshop. Beards! Beards are the answer! I look up very slightly and assess the beardage in a clockwise direction. Fair beard, dark beard, lady producer with no beard, dark beard, ginger beard. I reach up to my own face, bit stubbly, this probably is me. I am almost definitely in the correct room. It's still a bit quiet though. Finally:

PRODUCER: All right, James?

Anyway, it all worked out fine.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Afternoons of Futures Past

Just after I'd finished writing for the second series of Green Wing, I had a meeting with a BBC Drama producer and we talked for a while about serious matters, and then it turned out we were both HUGE fans of The O.C. so we could stop pretending to be grownups after that, it was great.
If you never watched The O.C, shame on you, it was a teen drama/soap thing set in Orange County, and it was brilliant, first two seasons at least. Much funnier that it had any need to be, which is always my favourite thing.

So, Drama Producer and I, fired up by mutual love of good entertaining telly, started developing our own take on a drama that could be funny and moving and entertaining at the same time, with characters who actually felt like real teenagers rather than the mouthpieces of cynical old hacks. The BBC commissioned two scripts, then dithered a bit, then decided not to go any further with it, which was a terrible shame, but their inalienable right.

Drama Producer and I started developing another show for the BBC, and this one didn't happen either, and then she left to work somewhere else, but we kept meeting up for chats, because when you meet good people in telly who are fun to work with and you trust, you jolly well cling to them. Recently, Drama Producer moved to an entirely new broadcaster and we had one of those meetings where we talked about all sorts of things, until she said 'hey, what happened to that first thing we worked on, the teen soap comedy thing?'

And I said I hadn't taken it anywhere, because I'd liked working on it with her so much I didn't feel anyone else would get it.I still used it as a sample script, because we'd developed the crikey out of it, so it was watertight, but I didn't really trust anyone else with it.

DRAMA PRODUCER: So... shall we maybe have another go at it?


Which is what's happening. And this does happen a lot, things you thought were dead suddenly get a second chance and so on, it's either a good thing, or it drives you mad, dunno which yet. I only mention it because we have a problem with this one which has never come up before, thusly:

DRAMA PRODUCER: Okay, we have an issue which is not insurmountable, but is holding things up somewhat. Because what has happened it, some of the rights have remained with the BBC from when we developed this in the first place, and the person who nailed down these rights was an absolute ARSE and is making my life very difficult as I am having to engage with the fine points of this annoying contract on an almost daily basis, and now I wish I was dead to a certain extent.

ME: Tell me who is responsible for this hackery, this jobsworth, this detestable contracts goblin, and madam I shall see them hang! (I'm writing an 18th century based thing at the moment and sometimes stuff bleeds through).


ME: What do you mean it's you?

DRAMA PRODUCER: I did the original contract, and it turns out I was very good at this sort of thing, I had forgotten.

ME: So what you are saying is you, my agent, and myself are now engaged with a version of you from the past, who is a total badass?


ME: Well now I want to make a series about that.

DRAMA PRODUCER: Please focus.

ME: Sorry.

Anyway, the battle continues.